Tag Archives: Preserved Lemons

Lucky Lobster Lover lives to eat her words…AND lobster, as well

In March, 2010, I put up a post on the subject of lobster (here). I discussed my “allergy” to it, how Mr. Homard (scientifically known as homarus americanus)  was one of my absolute favorite foods and how I believed I would never be able to eat it again. Today I am happy to report that I have overcome this intolerance. I am once again able to indulge in this luscious crustacean. “How did that happen?” you ask.

My inability to eat the stuff, really not an allergy at all, was on account of a badly diseased gall bladder. I had my strong suspicions about this angry organ for nearly 20 years.  That was when it first started bothering me. Fortunately, during the first 10 years, it  would attack me only on a rare occasion. After a good night’s rest with the help of the sleeping pill du jour,  I could mostly ignore the problem. However, for the last 10 years, it increasingly got louder; the attacks became more frequent. I eliminated avocado from my diet (another food I adore) because it always stirred up trouble for me. Other things were eliminated when I could link them to the pain.

I’m really no hero. It is just that whenever I would go with my symptoms to a doctor I would be told to go away. Yes, after poking and prodding me and taking a picture (ultra-sonically) of my gut, I would be told that although it sounded like my gall bladder, it seemed to have passed. This happened three times. I always knew it would be back. I just never knew when. Worse yet, I had no idea what I would be forced to eliminate from my diet next.

Several years ago I realized, after four trys, that every time I ate lobster my diseased organ unleashed it’s tremendous wrath inside my gut. Now lobster was out and this really pissed me off. Still, I put off returning to the doctors, only to be sent away once again.

Finally, the thing became acute. This time I was determined not to let the attack pass without seeking medical attention mid attack. Not to worry. The “attack” became a massive siege. I actually had all the time I needed since the agony would not subside. I spent a miserable week in New York. Even a small burger without the fries at the Shake Shack  had me bent over clutching my waist. It seemed eating anything was a problem.  As we drove home from the airport, I turned to my darling and said “take me to the hospital.” This time, sure enough, the diagnostics backed me up.

 At the risk of  TMI, I’ll tell you that my gall bladder was actually 97% dead! Yep, completely non-functioning but thankfully not gangrenous. It had to be yanked. This was a very welcome determination. Though for me the procedure was not easy to recover from, eventually I regained much improved digestive health. A big reward for a lot of suffering. Little by little, I am thrilled to report, that I was able to reintroduce every single eliminated food back into my diet.

Lobster is the one I rejoice in the most.

I love the concept of “butter poaching” just about anything. So, when I read on eGullet all about how people were doing it with lobster in their sous vide machines, my mouth watered. Yes, yes, I am a hardcore locavore and lobster certainly does not fit the test. But, fanatic be damned, one has to make reasonable exceptions especially for the things one loves…especially for the things one has been deprived of for so many years.

In Costco of all places I spied these gargantuan tails and impulsively decided one of these guys would be a good place to start my experimentation. After all, if I blew 20 bucks and didn’t have to wrestle to pull it out of the shell, I wouldn’t be so bummed if my first sous vide go around with lobster came out terrible.

I forgot to get a photo of the tail before I yanked it from its shell, but you know what a lobster tail looks like, right? Just imagine a HUGE one. The thing was a full 10 inches long and weighed a full pound! This must have come from a relatively old lobster. Attached to its body I would speculate that this fellow must have weighed at least 3 pounds.

In sous vide cooking, you don’t put the lobster in the bag still in its shell because of the risk of piercing the bag and making a mess of your sous vide machine. At the open end of the tail, I took my flower shears (yes, smarty pants, I cleaned them first) and began clipping the bones on the underside, one by one, right up the middle. Then I took my thumbs, placed them on either side of the tail with the cut bones up, and gave the thing a good strong pinch backward to expose the raw meat inside. A solid but gentle pull of a fork freed the meat in one big piece. The meat alone was at least 2 1/2 inches in diameter!

Here is a photo of the tail meat after it was bagged. Yes, that IS an entire stick of butter in there with the seafood. Now I am one of those weird people who does not dip my lobster in butter before stuffing it down my gullet.Perhaps this is why the tail is not my favorite part since it usually comes out so dry. But butter poaching is a horse of a different color. When you butter poach a protein such as this, the butter does not get infused into the substance. The butter simply serves to keep the meat nice and soft and totally moist. Once out of the poaching medium, most of the butter remains behind – these are not the calories one needs to be concerned with.

I left the bag in a 61 degree C water bath for 1 hour. Happily, the poaching medium that was  left over after the lobster was cooked, was infused with lobstery deliciousness which had to be used somehow.

Rice was my choice, other than French fries, the perfect accompaniment for this peasant seafood. I put the lobster in a ziplock bag, without the butter, and set it back in the Sous Vide rig to stay warm. This is one of the beautiful things about Sous Vide – the temperature never goes higher than you set it to so holding food during prep is no issue. Meanwhile, I sautéed some arborio rice in the lobster butter. For the liquid, I used a simple chicken stock amended with a healthy dose of puréed preserved lemon, a dash of nutmeg, a little white pepper and some kosher salt. The lemon provided plenty of contrast in flavor for the rice, even though it was cooked with the lobster butter.

When the rice was ready for serving, I took the lobster out, trimmed the ends (which got sent back into the rice) and sliced it in neat 1/2 inch disks. On the plate, I drizzled a tiny bit of the remaining lobster butter and garnished the plate with parsley. Plain and simple, but lobster really doesn’t need to be anything else.

In truth, I really expected to be disappointed and much to my thrill and surprise, the lobster was moist and succulent. It was not overly tender as I had feared and although it was not from the best of sources, it was sufficiently fresh and flavorful. I suppose that with today’s flash freezing methods, a decent commercial product really is made possible.

I enjoyed every last bite and suffered no pain for the indulgence.

Thanks for reading and thanks for everyone’s support during my long absence from this blog. I hope to have a number of interesting posts coming your way on a regular basis very soon.

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Filed under Cooking, Lobster, Sous Vide, sous vide cooking

Flowers for Foodies: You are what you eat?

When last we met, I made a promise about squash blossoms. These are lovely things and when I see them on restaurant menus, I am always captivated. Generally speaking, I really like the idea of eating flowers. This may be silly but I do. A flower is a thing of beauty and I happen to like the idea of eating things of beauty. Especially if it is true that you are what you eat.

You probably won’t find squash blossoms in an ordinary grocery store. If you do, I would not advise buying them unless you are going to pulverize them into soup. They could not possibly be fresh enough for stuffing. I found mine at one of my favorite local farmers’ markets. Squash blossoms are extremely perishable and difficult to keep. It is best to prepare and serve them on the same day they are picked, especially if you are going to stuff them. Mine had been picked the morning I purchased them and even still a couple were so badly bruised that I  had to toss them in the compost bucket! Don’t you just hate that?

You can see in the photo how beautiful they are. They have these delicate green veins – look closely. Mine were female as they had small squash attached which I removed for another time. The flowers tend to be about 4 inches in diameter and about three inches long. This leaves them with plenty of space to put some filling.

Apparently, squash blossoms open up early in the morning. One article I read encouraged picking them at that time so they would remain open and be easier to stuff. I had no problem gently coaxing mine open to get them ready for filling. I carefully washed them out. In one, I found a little bug. Unlike flowers, I am not interested in eating bugs. I also removed the stamens. Why? Because several recipes suggested that this part tastes bitter. It was easy to do. I just stuck the tip of a small kitchen shears inside and carefully clipped it away.

Most of the recipes I found called for stuffing the flowers, coating them in some way and then frying them quickly. Some called for a simple dusting with corn starch or flour and others suggested using a batter. I decided to use the same  basic batter I use when making Mexican style chile rellenos only with different seasonings.

 Here is the mis en place for the batter: a separated egg and a little bit of  flour (mixed with some onion powder, salt and pepper).

I also decided to use a fairly mild filling because the blossoms are hardly about flavor. With a lightly seasoned batter fried just so, this dish is so much more about mouthfeel than anything else. My meal consisted of polenta with guanciale and sous vide duck breast with a cherry gastrique in addition to the squash blossom rellenos. This dinner was a wonderful study of contrast in texture and taste: crispy and subtle vegetables set off against the meaty poultry with its pungent, fruity sauce and the creamy, bacony polenta.

To make the filling I used fresh ricotta flavored with preserved lemon, fresh mint, thyme, just a touch of basil, and some salt. I plucked the herbs from my garden – some of the few things I can grow in spite of my cursed black thumbs.

I finely minced the herbs in the small bowl fitted to my immersion blender (still my favorite kitchen implement), added the other ingredients and gave it a couple of pulses.

I ended up with a lovely emulsion though I wish it would not have thinned out so much. Next time I might add some flour or walnuts to bind it a bit.

To make the batter, I whipped the egg white until it was stiff but not dry, folded in the yolk which I had stirred well and then sprinkled on the seasoned flour. The flour was then lightly folded into the egg mixture, keeping the batter plenty light and fluffy.

Earlier, when I opened and cleaned out the blossoms, I set them on some plastic so by the time I was ready to prepare them for frying, they were pretty dry. As I filled each blossom with the cheese mixture, I brought the petals together and gently pinched them between my fingers just enough to keep them closed while I slathered them with the batter.

The batter more or less “glued” the petals together so the filling did not come out during frying – at least most of the time. I fried them up in very hot, but not smoking, canola oil. Canola works well because of its total neutrality. The frying went very fast – it took maybe a minute or two to get one side a nice golden brown. I flipped them over with a spatula, rather than a pair of tongs, to avoid having them break open and spill the filling. They came out looking really good.

I lost a little filling from one, but it was still  fine for serving.

Our dinner was lovely and romantic. We had great fun taking bites of the three dishes and experiencing the different flavors and textures. 

A couple of notes: Sour pie cherries have about a 3-4 week season here. I picked 25 pounds this year and canned them all. I made the gastrique from some juice that was unused after I had canned all the fruit. It was mildly sweet and intensely cherry flavored. After reducing the juice to 1/4 of its original volume, I amended it with some 18 year old balsamic vinegar and a tablespoon or so of honey. The polenta was actually left over from a meal we had earlier in the week. While it was in the fridge, the guanciale permeated the cooked polenta in a wonderful way. It tasted even better the second time around! The duck breast was cooked in the same manner described in my earlier post here.

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Filed under Comfort Food, Cooking, Duck, Farmers Market, kitchen tools, Sous Vide

Food Fanatic Joins the Society for the Preservation of Lemons

Sometimes I get a hankering to try something out in my own kitchen even though I have no idea at the time what I am going to do with the end results.  The fruits of this particular experiment, fortunately, should have a very long shelf life, thanks to our friends, Mr. Salt and Mr. Acid.

I have noticed that lately many cooks are flavoring things with preserved lemons. For instance, a little while back, I had some incredible octopus at this fabulous little tapas bar  that was served in a broth with potatoes. The broth was marvelously complex but the most pervasive flavor, other than sea salt was preserved lemon. (As an aside, if I were a betting woman, I would wager that the octopus had been cooked sous vide, slow and low, before being set afloat in that broth.) On another recent visit to a favorite local fish restaurant, I ordered a beautiful steamed shellfish soffrito which featured fantastic giant prawns, succulent muscles and tender clams, floating in a preserved lemon and tomato sauce. The preserved lemon imparts a very exotic citrusy flavor to whatever it touches. Lets just face it, I love exotic!  

In my personal library, I found two recipes for preserved lemons. One in Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and the second in Preserved by Johnny Acton & Rick Sandler. I am sure I could have found others elsewhere but I decided these two versions were enough for a first try. I’m not sure how many preserved lemons a girl needs, anyway.

The recipes, both very simple, were similar except in one you were instructed to juice half of the lemons and slice the the other half into 8 wedges per lemon. These wedges are placed in the jar between layers of salt and spices. In the end, the lemon juice gets poured in the with the other fruit and fills all of the spaces. Ruhlman, on the other hand, tells you to put a bed of salt into a vessel and then to shove as many lemon halves as you can get in there, too. Next, throw in the spices and cover it all with a whole bunch more salt – much more than is called for by Acton/Sandler. I had a little lemon juice left from the first recipe so I put it into one of the two Ruhlman jars. You cover the jars and hide them in a cool dark place for one month. Supposedly, voila, you have the exotic flavoring element that I have been enjoying lately all over town.

I’ll let you know how it goes when I open them up the first of April!

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Filed under Cooking, Preserving